Breaking the Wheel
Chapter One: Campaign
-The World of Runes-
From upon his gray steed, he overlooked the deadlocked battle in the plains beyond. And he felt so very ill. However, he was not afflicted with a sickness—of that he was well aware. It was a malady of the mind, brought on by the strain of the tiresome, never-ending war.
After all, those who are chosen by a True Rune cannot fall to sickness; they live on timelessly, agelessly.
He shook his head from such thoughts and, again, gazed at the lolling flatlands, filled as far as the eye could see with soldiers. The distance obscured the much of the details, leaving only a dark mass with just bright habiliments and banners of the opposing sides.
Red, because red was the queen's color, faced against blue and green and orange and yellow, and a plethora of banners and pennons—because it took more than one nation to oppose Corona. It took so many just to fight back.
The sheer numbers of Corona was intimidating. They wore their colors with pride and determination, and he had to ask himself why he did not see the signs sooner. He should have noticed it a decade ago, when the Circle Rune chose Queen Innid Cil Arolwynn. He should have listened more closely to the rumors of her sudden apathy. He should have done something before she amassed an army and expanded Corona's borders. And he most certainly should have caught on by the time she first captured a second True Rune.
But he had not, and now he was here, facing a colossal army in a war that required runes to change the flow.
As if aware of his thoughts, the Blue Moon Rune on his forehead thrummed with life, just asking to be used, to slaughter, to feast. With so much death around him, he could kill so many…
"Sven!" It was enough to jostle him from the rune's pull. Lord Bhaltair, the general and otherwise de facto leader of the conglomerate army, flanked him on horseback. "How do you think it will end?"
"Not soon." Sven shrugged.
Bhaltair chuckled at this, and Sven vaguely wondered how anyone could laugh with thousands of enemies engulfing the horizon—all pining to take one's head. "I asked 'how', my friend and not 'when'."
Funny, he never recalled being Tamlan Bhaltair's friend.
"Not well." the blond simply amended.
Bhaltair simply laughed again, a roaring rumble from the gut. "Not one for idle banter are you?"
Sven shrugged, said nothing further, and resumed silently observing the course of conflict with his new companion.
From the left formation, there was a ripple, signaling something was occurring. It did not take long for a messenger to arrive on horseback, but even Sven was surprised to see the pale, grim face of Gwar Nerin.
The graying brunette took a shaky breath to speak, but Bhaltair interrupted before she could even begin. "You leave your men in disarray so easily?"
If his barb unnerved her, she did not show it. "Ing is there," she explained as if that solved everything. "And we've already lost too many central figures."
Bhaltair's full-bodied armor made it impossible to read his expression. He was probably livid. Probably. "Oh? I never knew you were a contender."
She gave him a toothy, feral grin. "Well, in the misfortunate event of your death, someone has to take the reigns, no?"
"And I suppose that person would be you?"
Gwar and Tamlan had never been on amicable terms.
"Many of your elder brothers have lost their lives to this campaign," she let the rest hang in the tense air.
"Such is the nature of war." he did not deny that the throne suddenly being within his grasp was beneficial. "Enough wasting time. What news do you bring?"
Gwar's black stallion pawed the torn earth. "Corona found a… weakness in the left wing. They are trying, and will likely succeed, in breaking the formation. We should change our—"
"I will go."
He spurred his horse down the hill with Gwar's call barely reaching his ears, "What can you possibly do?"
Soldiers dashed to the side in order to get out of his way as he made a mad charge to the surging mass of red in the left. Long before dawn, long before the armies met, he knew that this moment would come.
That he would use the rune.
A swarm of Coronan infantry came into view, and he immediately raised his right hand—containing a Rage Rune. As searing hot fire burst from beneath their very feet, they screamed and flailed wildly. Clearly, the soldiers had not expected to encounter a runic master.
He used the momentary lapse to assess the situation. Indeed, Gwar had been right. These soldiers, mostly her own men, were not fighting in tandem, and their inexperience was being exploited by the other side with a uniform force of infantry and cavalry to breach the defenses and archers to pick off the rest and prevent any semblance reformation.
Sven had bought enough time for him to devise a means to fight back.
Quickly, he used the Flowing Rune to make a fog hinder the archers' sight. Sven did not stop there, for he then used the rune to rapidly heal the wounds of those around him—those that could be saved with a gentle blue, magic induced rain.
"I will heal you, and together we will drive them back."
Perhaps his words inspired the disorganized soldiers, or perhaps it was because they just watched a score of Coronans burn to a crisp. Either way, they yelled and charged back to reform the defensive line.
The Flowing Rune was not nearly enough to save them all, and he would need more able soldiers to make a lasting impact. Sven could not chance waiting for reinforcements. So he had but one option left.
The Blue Moon Rune burned, and he gave in.
For those too far gone, he used his True Rune to change their nature; he gave them both a curse and a boon; he made them vampires. After the skirmish, when they realized what they now were, they might resent him, but he hardly cared.
They could continue to fight, and that was exactly what he needed.
In their newborn state of vampirism, they went into a bloodthirsty frenzy on the enemies, and that was exactly what he wanted.
He had to keep moving for most of his time was consumed with healing the wounded and raising vampires as soon as possible. If the opportunity presented itself, he would sometimes rain fire down on a group, but he knew that he would have to conserve his energy to maintain the protection.
An arrow grazed his ear. He saw more archers readying their longbows and crossbows; they had apparently fled the mist or one of their rune mages finally dispelled it. Either way, he merely summoned the fog once more. It was annoying, but getting struck with quarrels was by far worse.
It was at this moment he was glad a prior raid had prevented the main army from transporting their war-towers. Ballistae and burning catapult pitch were so much trouble.
He felt the tingling of foreign magic—someone was trying to seal his runes—but it stopped abruptly after a tranquil wind passed over, putting some enemies to sleep and dazing the rest.
Seconds later, an arrow went flying into the face of a red-robed Coronan mage.
Sven's light gaze followed back to a mounted soldier and was immediately taken aback.
He had gruesome scars covering his face. The wounds had probably been a hair's breadth of permanently destroying his eyes. The lines were pearly and thick—he had not received adequate medical attention. The man's lower lip had a laceration that never healed but was instead sewn just to keep the flaps together, and all of that was a perfunctory analysis.
But the blond also noticed a the faintly glowing Wind Rune on his left hand. He had to wonder how skilled this grotesque man was for he not only noticed the magic attack at the same time (or even before) as Sven but also reacted and effectively incapacitated and killed the offender.
All the while, the man, his eyes a frighteningly beautiful blue, was staring the True Rune bearer with fierce scrutiny.
"You have good eyes."
"And not a monstrous face?" he was predictably bitter.
Sven said nothing further, but throughout his repetitive cycle of healing—fleeing—siring, he kept aware of the interesting man's actions. Truly, he was a versatile fighter. His precision with a recurve bow deserved accolades. When something got too close, he deftly switched to a lengthy spear. He also fell back on his rune and used strong winds to route Coronans that were overwhelming the Allied Army.
Just as Sven believed they would survive the skirmish, an impregnable darkness fell over, draining the light of the midday sun. And from that blackness, came the one person Sven Eldrun never wanted to meet.
The Queen's Night.
She wore armor as black as her name, face hidden under her full casque. The red flag sporting a symbol much like the Circle Rune, hung from her pauldrons like a cape; it was the only color against her infinite black. He heard stories about how she was nothing more than a skeleton, sustained only by the Night Rune and slaughter, but there were many stories about her and none were pleasant.
But most terrifying of all was that she was the absolute worst opponent for him. After all, the Night Rune could undermine vampires with ease. To further exacerbate the situation, she, if the tales remain true, was centuries older than him. The Queen's Night had that much more experience with her rune.
"Oh ho ho," her laugh was shrill and held no mirth. Just violence. "Vampires for me to massacre." The last was closer to a harsh whisper than a normal utterance.
In silent horror, he watched as she raised her hand, the rune bursting with dark magic. The newborn vampires, likely still not aware of their change, became immobilized and were helpless to the cavalry's blades.
He knew that there was little hope now.
"There you are, boy," Ellah Night's voice was raspy. "I'll come to you."
He held the reigns tighter, erstwhile trying to keep his wayward emotions in check. This monster scared him—scared him more than all of Corona and her Queen. This woman could kill him, end him and…
A massive sword cleaved his horse with him still atop. It was reflexes alone that caused him to transform into a swarm of bats, and thus avoiding, the lethal blow. But his horse was lost because he was being a fool.
As soon as he regained his form, she came rushing in. He had little choice but to keep transforming and evade while always being hounded.
The scarred man charged her and thrust with his spear. The assault did not land, but it did force her to retreat a few paces. Sven used that chance to tap into the Rage Rune.
"NO YOU DON'T, CHILD!" she roared with fury. Even from there, he felt the force of the Night Rune, pushing him to his knees and shattering his concentration. With no hesitation, she resumed her course.
Arrows deflected off her armor.
She was upon him, and still he had no strength to move. Sword raised for the final blow, he saw the effort he had spent in keeping the formation finally crumble. Then heave blade fell in a downward arc. Nothing but red swarmed the beleaguered battalion.
This was how he would die. Pitiful, really.